Feb 20, 2009

Dalva e Dito, Alex Atala's new restaurant in São Paulo

At long last, I was able to try out Dalva e Dito, the new restaurant of famed Brazilian chef Alex Atala that has tongues wagging. Reviews have been mixed. Love it or hate it. Many paulistas have been complaining that the service is bad and the food expensive.

I had lunch there this week, and right off the bat I've got to say that I can't judge the service. It was excellent, but they knew me and clearly put in some extra effort...

As for the food, it is expensive. True. Especially considering he serves humble Brazilian dishes, like rice and beans with roasted chicken and toasted manioc flour (farofa). The same kind of stuff you can find at every corner here in São Paulo for a mere 5 bucks.

If the restaurant serves overpriced Brazilian standards, why go? Well, for a series of reasons. Atala has given humble dishes the royal treatment. The best example is the roasted chicken, which is prepared in the Rolls Royce of roasters, called the Rotissol, which Atala imported from France for a small fortune.

The meats, carved tableside, are prepared sous vide, and therefore have an inimitable texture - even cooking from outside to inside, pink but not oozing blood. I had the prix fixe lunch, which is the quintessential Brazilian lunch menu: a meat (choice of chicken, pork or beef), rice, black beans, farofa, mini potatoes, halved, skin-on, al dente julienned kale, and a choice of excellent hot pepper sauces (such as cambuci and coração). The farofa was a bit dry and undersalted, but the rest was very tasty and expertly executed. But of course, in the 47 reais they charge for this lunch there's a built-in premium that is charged for the fact that you're eating in the hottest restaurant in the city, which carries a brand. The Alex Atala brand. Besides, I don't know of any other place serving rice and beans in such a high-end setting - I especially loved the terrasse tables that sit under a canopy of ferns:

I also noticed the high quality of the glasses, hand-stitched napkins, antique wood tables, etc. So to those who complain about the prices, all I can say is... what did you expect?
Another little-known fact is that Atala is not the chef. He's delegated the task to Frenchman Alain Poletto (pictured below), who manages a veritable battalion of toque-clad chefs.

Servers look ultra-hip in caqui and ivory uniforms designed by Alexandre Herchcovitch, and All-Star sneakers.
Now, a confession. I actually preferred the bar snacks over the food served in the main room. I had these delicious coxinhas (a croquette of seasoned chicken and potato puree).

The cod fritters were airy and beautifully crisp.

And my absolute favorites were these pasteis filled with vatapa, a seafood Bahian specialty.

I was almost bummed to have to leave the downstairs bar when they called us to our lunch table in the main room (below).

For dessert I had an ultra-simple chocolate custard laced with the essence of priprioca, an aromatic amazonian root that Atala has introduced in Sao Paulo recently, and better-known for its use in perfumes and soaps.

I was glad to see the wine list has a large variety of Brazilian wines, fittingly:

In short, it's safe to say I will be back. And soon!

Dalva e Dito
Rua Padre João Manuel, 1115, Jardins, 3062-6282

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